How Amy Heimerl teaches with iPad.

“With the right kind of teaching, and the right kind of apps, and the selective process of using iPad with traditional teaching methods, our students are able to achieve more than they did in the past.”

Amy Heimerl, Elementary Teacher, Park Avenue Elementary, Auburn, ME

Apps in the classroom.

When Amy Heimerl’s school district decided to incorporate iPad into the classroom, it started with an assignment. A team of five teachers was given the task of coming up with recommendations on how best to teach with the device. The team spent two full days putting together a comprehensive list of great iPad apps to use during the school year. Heimerl was part of that initial team, and the experience quickly opened her eyes to the teaching potential of iPad.

The school district had already developed a rubric used to rate apps: Does it meet the learning objective? Does it give immediate feedback? Is it the best possible app out of all the options? Is it customizable? Heimerl applied these criteria rigorously to select the best apps for her kindergarten class.

Personalized folders for personalized learning.

With 22 students, Heimerl has the challenge of teaching to every level. So when the school district gave each of her her students an individual iPad, she decided to try to create a custom learning experience for every student. And it turned out to be as simple as making folders. Heimerl put the same library of apps on every student’s iPad. Then she dragged appropriate apps into custom folders for each student. For example, in one student’s math folder, she might put a number recognition app. Another student ready for the next level might have an addition and subtraction app.

Making folders of apps seemed basic, but it made a huge difference. When students picked up their iPad to start learning, they just tapped on the right folder and went to work. Having tailor-made learning materials helped them advance much more quickly. “Everything they do on their iPads is completely self-checking, so they get that immediate reinforcement and can move along without my standing right there,” says Heimerl. “They have the freedom to progress at their own speed.”

A lesson in sharing.

Heimerl’s students have an innate desire and eagerness to show classmates what they’re doing on their iPad. “They like to share what they learned, or what they can do, or what they found,” says Heimerl. “They can take their knowledge to their friend and be the teacher.”

She loves that iPad encourages her kids to think independently. “My students find their own creative ways to do something or get somewhere,” says Heimerl. And when she sees her students doing something interesting on iPad, she projects their work to the class. “And then suddenly all of my kids want to try something new.”

“Every student learns differently. But because they’re more excited and more engaged with their iPad, they tend to focus more.”

Tips from Amy Heimerl.

Search and discover apps.

“I go to the App Store and start searching by my teaching targets, and see what pops up. And I try to say something in a few different ways. I start broad, for example, by searching ‘spelling.’ Then if there are too many options and I can’t narrow them down to what I need, I’ll try more specific topics like ‘spell sounds’ or ‘consonants.’”

Don’t rely on ratings alone.

“I don’t put all my stock and faith in the ratings. I do look at them, but the rating doesn’t always match with how I find the app to be. An app might be less suited for someone else’s needs, but more suited for what I need.”

Save with free apps.

“I always search the free apps first. There are so many great free apps out there in every subject.”

Assess regularly.

“I’ll do a fairly formal assessment of the students every three weeks or so. Then I go into their app folders to see if what they’ve got is working. If not, I’ll switch out apps or level up the ones they’ve got. I do rotations so I’m not overwhelmed assessing everyone at the same time.”

Set up a process for using iPad.

“Set up a routine for handling, storing, and protecting the iPad, and tell your students about it on day one. We labeled each iPad with a number assigned to each student. There’s a charging station in my room, and they get charged overnight when the battery gets below 25%. And we set up a special cubby where their iPad goes.”

Make the app and lesson work together.

“Be deliberate and thoughtful about how you’re teaching a particular skill so that the app you choose and your lesson can go hand in hand. And the learning can be reinforced by what they practice afterwards on the iPad.” See our Apps in the Classroom Guide